Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Jason Moran
Blue Note 509994 57186 2 5

Ten marks the ten year anniversary of the Bandwagon, pianist Jason Moran's longstanding trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Following 2006's eclectic Artist In Residence (Blue Note), this assured session is Moran's first album in four years and the Bandwagon's first studio recording since their 2000 debut, Facing Left (Blue Note), devoid of a thematic concept or guest artist.

The trio's intuitive interplay has developed considerably in the past decade. Their triangulating discourse is executed with incisive dynamics and an organic sensibility that favors naturalistically paced narrative development over programmatic change. No longer needing to prove their virtuosity or the validity of their conceptual ideas, they expound on assorted themes with an unfettered dexterity that is breathtaking in its creativity. Whether erecting labyrinthine structures from syncopated rhythms and intervallic counterpoint or waxing poetic with sensitive restraint, their heady mélange of roiling zeal and understated lyricism ebbs gracefully between tension and release.

Reflecting their artistic growth and maturity, Moran and company explore an array of genres without abandoning their sense of stylistic cohesion. Although the album eschews an overarching conceptual theme, Moran does include a handful of pieces originally premiered as commissions from large-scale works, such as the rousing opener, "Blue Blocks," culled from the gospel-influenced suite "Live: Time," inspired by the quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Mateen and Waits' congenial rapport is implicit from the start; they underscore Moran's rhapsodic flourishes with vacillating tempos and undulating dynamics, accenting every cascading chord progression and burst of single note runs with intensifying fervor.

An omnivorous intellectual, Moran's numerous interests are revealed on the brooding "RFK In The Land Of Apartheid" and the ethereal "Feedback Pt. 2." The former is the main theme of a film score Moran composed for Larry Shore's documentary about Robert Kennedy's 1966 visit to South Africa. The later is part of a suite inspired by Jimi Hendrix's revolutionary use of guitar feedback that seamlessly blends live improvisation with sampled loops of Hendrix's actual feedback, lending the elegiac ballad a wistful poignancy. The delicate solo piano piece "Pas De Deux" is equally affecting, spotlighting Moran's first dance collaboration with Alonzo King's Lines Ballet.

Moran reiterates his staunch advocacy of the jazz tradition with a series of classic covers. In addition to a funky, deconstructed version of Thelonious Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie," there is a stirringly surreal take on Jaki Byard's stride-inflected "To Bob Vatel of Paris" and a gorgeous reading of "Play To Live," a tune Moran co-wrote with Andrew Hill shortly before his passing in 2007. Moran's inquisitiveness ventures beyond the boundaries of jazz convention, exemplified by a vivacious tear through Leonard Bernstein's "Big Stuff," and two radically different versions of American composer Conlon Nancarrow's manic piano player piece, "Study No. 6," which finds the trio exploring contradictory moods – one  meditative, the other assertive.

The Bandwagon's extrapolation of their de facto theme, "Gangsterism Over 10 Years" brings the date's conceptual and historical through-line full circle with a rapturous fusion of blues, funk and gospel – an all-inclusive aspect reinforced by the album's surprise ending. The ruminative "Old Babies" (featuring the voices of Moran's infant twins) ends the album proper, but following a brief silence, a riotous series of variations on Bert Williams' minstrel-era standard "Nobody" materializes, rhetorically questioning the relationship between art and entertainment.

An artist with one foot in the past and one in the future, Moran stands alongside fellow pianists Vijay Iyer and Matthew Shipp, fearlessly advancing the tradition by re-interpreting the innovations of past masters. Bolstered by the empathetic contributions of his peers, Ten is Moran's most appealing album to date and a watershed moment in the development of one of today's most impressive working piano trios.
-Troy Collins


Art Pepper
Unreleased Art, Vol. V: May 25 1981
Widow’s Taste (no catalog number)

What a subtle, crafty improviser Art Pepper was, such a monster master of solo construction,. His alto sax solos on this two-disc quartet set are breathtaking even when melodic inspiration is variable. From the very beginning each one is shot through with maximum tension, achieved with all kinds of techniques: contrasts of phrase lengths, phrase registers, accents, riffs vs. melodic phrasing, in-tune vs. inflected tones. Of course this was true of Pepper's first career. This concert was less than 13 months before his death, and here in his second career, in which he played longer solos, these tension-inducers are in a sense more visceral, more dramatic, or melodramatic: the artist's heart on his sleeve.

So in the typically incredibly fast "Straight Life" here he strolls through his opening solo choruses with little, brittle phrases, introducing variety only after pianist Milcho Leviev's accompaniment enters.  And in the perverse blues "Landscape," after Leviev's hammy solo, Pepper again strolls, this time low in his horn, rising higher after Leviev begins chording. This piece in particular offers Pepper's latter-day, post-Coltrane runs and arpeggios and it ends in alto saxophone mooing. The ballad "Patricia" is an especially fine example of Pepper creating tension, with alternating sweet theme phrases and sour embellishments, with harsh phrases and a few brief double-time runs so artfully placed. In those days he liked to add long one- or two-chord tags to his songs, and this tag abandons the theme's affection for busy, difficult, twisted, screaming phrases over a conventionally funky piano vamp. It's mighty hard to make such a routine interesting, yet the longest piece here is the two-chord "Make a List (Make a Wish)" and Pepper and the rhythm section mount a very gradual crescendo with climactic long overtones like those of his great rival in late-bop intensity Jackie McLean -- the McLean of, for example, "Old Gospel" and the Blue Note "Melody for Melonae." Melodramatic.

Two of this show's highlights are Pepper's clarinet showpiece "Avalon" -- lovely, big, pure clarinet sound, lovely phrasing, quite a spirit of Lester Young in this design -- and "Over the Rainbow," especially Pepper's a cappella alto sax intro and ending. Milcho Leviev's piano work is very smart, very dumb, cranky, often annoying, like the times he plays forte while Pepper plays piano. He seems to compete with Pepper in his best solo, "Straight Life," when he follows the hyperactive alto with an opposite kind of tension: phrases set in alive, free space. By contrast, the way Duke Jordan's flowing piano lyricism complemented turbulent alto-sax passions in the inspired In Copenhagen 1981 (Galaxy), recorded five weeks later, made him surely the best pianist for the second-career Art Pepper. The fine bassist Bob Magnusson, who plucks a number of solos, and the fine drummer Carl Burnett, who seldom solos, play this demanding music with pleasing grace and swing.
–John Litweiler


Ivo Perelman + Gerry Hemingway
The Apple in the Dark
Leo Records CD LR 569

Ivo Perelman + Brian Willson
The Stream of Life
Leo Records CD LR 571

Could it be that Ivo Perelman has always been at heart a melody man? These two very different improvised duets with drummers might lead you to think so. Perelman’s lyrical bent was perhaps less evident early in his career when his free jazz energy and the power of his tone left a greater impression than the songlike leanings of his solos. Perhaps he’s mellowing with age, but in the company of either Gerry Hemingway or Brian Willson, Perelman proves himself a master of linear development and control with a Romantic streak as wide as Ben Webster’s vibrato.

Hemingway is not an obvious choice of partner for Perelman, yet the saxophonist has recorded with the drummer on previous occasions, including Suite for Helen F. (Boxholder), and En Adir and Sound of Hierarchy (both for Music & Arts). Perelman’s intuitive approach would seem more naturally suited to drummers like Rashied Ali, Jay Rosen, and Michael Wimberley, all of whom he’s recorded with to great effect. Hemingway is more of an architect than an action painter, and how much he leaves out of his music is more important than how much he puts in. But the very clarity and methodical nature of Hemingway’s concept generate a beautifully suited framework for Perelman to work with, and Hemingway is flexible and spontaneous enough to let himself be guided by Perelman when the occasion calls for it.

Their album is more than a fascinating duel between expressionistic tenor sax and thoughtfully abstract percussionist, however. Perelman’s tenor, while still robust and full of fire and color, now has a rounded edge, a sound tempered by sadness and compassion that gives it greater gravitas. More often than not, his approach to Hemingway is to develop short motifs into linear statements that work towards a climax that feels well earned. Perelman plays piano on half the disc, which adds a percussive dimension to his sounds and melodies.

Hemingway and Perelman each recognize how the other works and they consciously develop new ways to create together. For instance, On “Sinful,” Hemingway erects the structure that Perelman lets shape his improvising. Cymbal, drum, and hi-hat figures repeat and expand while Perelman synchronizes his phrases to them, letting them flow freely, occasionally erupting into scribbles that go outside the frame. Sometimes his lines bloom into untempered sounds that suggest shapes and lines, in a manner that’s analogous to the way Hemingway suggests melody with his drums. Then on “Green Settings,” it’s Perelman’s line that seems to dictate the structure with Hemingway moving freely around the tenor’s lengthening, melismatic phrases. Perelman’s piano creates a different dynamic between them. On the loosely structured “Vicious Circle,” Perelman’s harmonies, oblique melodies, and digressive development are reminiscent of Andrew Hill at times. It’s hard to predict whether a seemingly errant thought will become a minor detail or the main thrust of the solo. The ambiguity keeps the music in a marvelous state of flux. “The Path” begins with a folksong like melody, which crops up now and then throughout Perelman’s improvisation. Here the contrasts between pianist and drummer are in fact the focus of the piece, with Perelman’s denser, heavier, and declamatory style counterbalancing Hemingway’s spacious, evocative, and highly edited one.

Willson is more of the busy, energetic drummer one more commonly associates with Perelman’s music. In fact, he appears on Perelman’s previous trio release on Leo, Mind Games, along with bassist Dominic Duval. He works on a larger scale than Hemingway, using denser, more intricate components and sweeping gestures. But if The Stream of Life is a more “conventional” free jazz album, it’s a good one at that. This is music that calls for participants to be both self-sufficient and highly empathetic, sometimes at the same time. On “French Hope” and “Agua Viva” Perelman and Willson smack sounds together, shadow and anticipate each other, then pull apart and work in parallel as the music demands. Part of the freedom of the music, beyond its essential freedom from pre-established form, is the freedom to draw on the entire history of jazz. They flow in and out of a swinging beat on “Murmirios” weaving a kind of Hawkins-to-Ayler tapestry. And Perelman cross cuts against Willson’s freebop beat at the climax of “Timponiana” to generate terrific tension. As on the album with Hemingway, there is both variety of form, depth of feeling, and intellectual engagement. It just emerges from a remarkably different set of aesthetic principles.
–Ed Hazell


Karlheinz Stockhausen
hat [now] ART 178

The three works performed by Ives Ensemble span Karlheinz Stockhausen’s early ‘50s debut as a bad boy of post-war composition through his investiture as demigod in the ‘60s. Although the earliest composition – “Kreuzspiel No. 1/7,” a sextet for piano, oboe, bass clarinet and three percussionists dated 1951 – reflects his studies with Messiaen and a vague awareness of the more envelope-pushing intervals then used in jazz, it is an important marker in Stockhausen’s application of serial technique to duration as rhythm and form. There is residual Webernesque pointillism in Stockhausen’s score, from which Ives Ensemble coaxes a discernible piquancy; this distinguishes the work from those composed at the end of the ‘50s, which introduced his moments-based approach to time. Oddly, “Kreuzspiel” is sandwiched between “Refrain No. 11” (1959) and the fifty-minute realization of the ’63 title piece, a first recording. “Refrain” is a trio for piano, celesta and percussion – with the occasional tongue click and short, sharply uttered syllable. Its slow rubato feel is periodically interrupted by the surprisingly obvious structural device that gives the piece its name. Despite Stockhausen’s emphasis on iridescent metallic timbres, the piece barely has the tepid forward momentum of “Kreuzspiel.” For “Plus-Minus,” Stockhausen painstakingly devised a system for organizing sounds, rather than specify the sounds themselves. The rub is that the symbols used in the piece are described by Stockhausen with varying degrees of vagueness. This gave composer Christopher Fox and pianist John Snijders latitude not only in selecting and sequencing the “layers’ of materials used for the performance, but also in the division of Ives Ensemble into two groups. Their realization resulted in music with a protean vitality, the type that reorients listening away from the task of tracing the explication of a system to the pleasure of taking in the moment and anticipating the next. The mix of instrumentation within the 14-person Ives Ensemble and the opportunities afforded each musician to shine, if only momentarily, goes a long way to this end. And, in terms of the overall impact of this album, this engaging performance doesn’t come a moment too soon.
–Bill Shoemaker


Sun Ra
College Tour Vol 1: The Complete Nothing Is
ESP-Disk 4060

Were audiences ready for the Arkestra's freedom in May 1966? This concert's opener "Sun Ra and His Band from Outer Space" leads the St. Lawrence University crowd steadily from inside to outside, from Ra's fine stately-to-thundering piano opening, through a unison band vocal, to collective wailing, to John Gilmore's free, screaming tenor sax obsessions over some tiny motives, all in the first three-and-a-half minutes. The rest of this two-disk album reverts to the stylistic confusion of slightly earlier Arkestas, surprisingly far from the realized freedom of 1965's historic Ra conductions The Magic City and the first Heliocentric. What we get is a bit of hard bop (like the "State Street" theme), a fair amount of exotic percussion and modes, some brief band vocals, and a good amount of free jazz. The recording balance and quality are messes. The rhythm section is in the foreground, some horns are quite in the background, high and low tones lack full weight, resonance. You can hardly hear Robert Cummings' baritone clarinet (sounds like a bass clarinet to me) and James Jacson's flute improvising through the percussion thicket of "Advice to Medics." "Exotic Forest" is also static, Marshall Allen on oboe lost at length in one chord behind multi-percussion.

It sounds like Ronnie Boykin's imaginative bass lines are the main element of stability: Inside, outside, or an exotic vamp, he asserts the direction of each piece and he also plays thoughtful bowed solos. Allen, at least, is thoroughly at one with freedom in his grandly staged alto sax solo in "Dancing Shadows": a long line of motivic, linear developments, mostly, apart from some brittle bits. Trombonists Teddy Nance and Ali Hassan are fluent, the worst-recorded one of them is quite a J.J. man. Pat Patrick's complex baritone sax solo in "The Shadow World" is as aggressive and welcome as Allen's alto. Clifford Jarvis plays drums like a terrorist in two long, explosive, wild solos. They're eclectic, from Elvin Joneslike polyrhythms to sustained Max Roach-like variations. The other man in this 11-man Arkestra (no trumpets!) is percussionist Carl Nimrod.

Whenever Patrick was on the Arkestra his horn was their most distinctive, as sure as Carney with Ellington. He gave the ensembles a marvelous bottom-heavy sound; you can hear something of it here. The material is mainly Ra's simpler themes. Apart from a bit of clavoline early in the show, he sticks to piano with no hint of the keyboard extravaganzas soon to come. In fact, he meanders a lot in his short solos, only the first sounds purposeful, and his longest solo, "Is Is Eternal," is especially dreary. The meat of this album is mostly on disc one. They gradually run out of gas during the second set (all on disc two). But then, as you've no doubt noticed, Arkestra performances are knotty and knobby. This here ain't no smooth jazz, folks.
–John Litweiler

New World Records

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